Famous Sayings #116 — ‘Too Close for Comfort’

August 6, 2018

While driving on the highway, I was almost hit by a pickup truck that was inches away from more car. The driver failed to signal before passing me, so it was a good thing I looked before changing lanes. That was too close for comfort.

too close for comfort, famous sayings, marriage, TV series
The cast of the sitcom Too Close for Comfort. (Source)

I picked this idiom mainly because of the 1980s show of the same name. However, beyond the obvious definition, the origins of this phrase aren’t as clear.

What Does It Mean When Someone or Something Is ‘Too Close for Comfort’?

When someone or something is “too close for comfort,” it can mean a few things:

  1. A person is near another person, but in a way that invades the second person’s space.
  2. A person is near an object, like a moving car, but the space between them is so small that it heightens the danger of a collision.
  3. A person is aptly describing another person’s character, disposition, or character in a way that the second person is made uncomfortable.

In each of these situations, someone will feel uncomfortable, if not worried or scared.

When Do We Often Use This Phrase?

Often, the phrase is used to describe physical proximity. I’ve heard people use it a few times when they had brush-ins with danger, but I’ve occasionally heard when people were referring to marriage.

Of course, marriage is considered the cornerstones of society but carries its own stigma because it supposed to be a lifetime partnership and people come into marriage with high expectations. When people are married (or live together), they learn more about each other and see each other at their worst. That will make people too close for comfort. And as author Stephanie Coontz pointed out, people often feel trapped in their marriages because of how other aspects of their lives are affected.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Coontz briefly discussed the history of marriage from the medieval period on and explained why people needed to cultivate relationships outside of marriage. At the time, the number of married-couple households hit an all-time low in the United States; such households were a minority according to figures by the Census Bureau. While many people viewed this as troubling news, Coontz saw it as an opportunity for people to step back and contextualize marriage in a way that allowed people to have more fulfilling relationships with friends and family.

While Coontz agreed that marriage allowed people to experience greater and more exclusive forms of intimacy, there was a danger of isolation and disappointment. In some respects, Americans had become too dependent upon marriage for intimacy and friendship and that took away from other relationships. At the same time, the time that people spent with their spouses were diminished by work days and parenthood. The solution would be for people to restructure their social and work lives in order to allow for more time to communicate with others.

What Is the Origin of This Phrase?

As I said at the top, that is unclear. As I did the research for this post, all I was able to find were a bunch of definitions from the following websites:

  • com
  • The Free Dictionary by Farlex
  • Merriam-Webster
  • Cambridge English Dictionary
  • The Idioms
  • Oxford Dictionaries
  • Collins English Dictionary
  • Macmillan Dictionary
  • Wiktionary

In many cases, at least one of these sites would point toward the origin of the phrase. Alas, none was to be found.

I eventually went to Wikipedia. Despite its inherent flaws, it is a good referencing source. There was a little bit of information about a 1956 song entitled, “Too Close for Comfort.” As it turns out, this song has a lot of versions to it, meaning the phrase might have first gained popularity at that time.

The Wiki page also a few links. One of the links I followed was to the Google Books site. The book in question, To Broadway, To Life! The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick by Philip Lambert had more information about the origins of the song.

“Too Close for Comfort” was a song written the Broadway musical Mr. Wonderful, which opened on March 22, 1956, and starred Sammy Davis, Jr. The single was released before the play opened and it had numerous versions by then. Besides the version sung by Davis and his group, the Will Mastin Trio, there were versions by Peggy Lee, and Teddi King, among others.

Here is a version by Sammy Davis, Jr.:

What About the Show?

Too Close for Comfort was a television show that aired from 1980 to 1987 and starred Ted Knight, an alum from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In his show, Knight played a cartoonist named Henry Rush who lived in a Victorian house in San Francisco with his wife, Muriel, who was a freelance photographer. The house was used as a duplex.

As the story began, the couple’s grown daughters came to live with them. The daughters — Jackie (a 21-year-old bank teller and aspiring fashion designer) and Sarah (an 18-year-old college student) — eventually moved into the downstairs apartment after a transvestite named Rafkin died suddenly.

In the first season, Monroe Ficus, Sarah’s goofy friend, was a recurring character who got on Henry’s nerves. Monroe soon became a permanent fixture on the show and hilarity ensued.

That sounded pretty funny on the surface, but as Noel Murray explained in a long article for The A.V. Club in 2012, a recurring theme of the series was what the writers did to one of the actors. Jim J. Bullock was a gay comedian whose homosexuality was somewhat of a secret to the viewers, but the writers would hint to it by the way they wrote his character, Monroe.

Monroe was portrayed as a wimpy man who got mixed up with an 80-year-old woman, but that’s not the worst of it. This was especially highlighted in an episode of Too Close for Comfort entitled, “For Every Man There’s Two Women,” where it was suggested that Monroe was raped by two ugly women of varying size. Overall, the episode was a shameful reminder of how society and the film industry dealt with homosexuality, sexual assault, and people who didn’t meet a certain standard of beauty.

All these subjects might be too close for comfort.

Works Cited

“be too close for comfort Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge English Dictionary. Cambridge University Press. Web. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018. <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/be-too-close-for-comfort>.

Coontz, Stephanie. “Too Close for Comfort.” The New York Times. 7 Nov 2006. Web. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018. <https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/07/opinion/07coontz.html>.

Lambert, Philip. “2. Wonders of Manhattan.” To Broadway, To Life! The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick. Oxford University Press. New York, NY; 2011. Print. Page 40. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018.

Murray, Noel. “Too Close For Comfort, ‘For Every Man There’s Two Women.’” The A.V. Club. 8 Mar 2012. Web. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018. <https://tv.avclub.com/too-close-for-comfort-for-every-man-there-s-two-women-1798230654>.

PM793. “Sammy Davis Jr – Too Close For Comfort.” YouTube. 14 Aug 2013. Video. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7Lcpcu4vew>.

“Too close etc for comfort definition and meaning.” Collins English Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018. <https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/too-close-etc-for-comfort>.

“too close for comfort (phrase) definition and synonyms.” Macmillan Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018. <https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/too-close-for-comfort>.

“Too Close for Comfort (TV Series 1980-1987).” Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018. <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080299/?ref_=ttpl_pl_tt>.

“Too close for comfort | Define too close for comfort at Dictionary.com.” Dictionary.com. Web. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018. <https://www.dictionary.com/browse/too-close-for-comfort>.

“Too Close For Comfort | Definition of Too Close For Comfort by Merriam-Webster.” Merriam-Webster. Web. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/too%20close%20for%20comfort>.

“too close for comfort | Definition of too close for comfort in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries. Web. Retrieved 5 August 2018. <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/too_close_for_comfort>.

“too close for comfort meaning, definition, examples, origin, synonyms.” The Idioms. Web. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018. <https://www.theidioms.com/too-close-for-comfort/>.

“Too close for comfort.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex. Web. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018. <https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/too+close+for+comfort>.

“Too Close For Comfort …” Tellwut.com. Survey Created 11 Mar 2016. Web. Retrieved 6 August 2018. <https://www.tellwut.com/surveys/entertainment/tv/95010-too-close-for-comfort-.html>.

Various Authors. “Too Close for Comfort (1956 song).” Wikipedia. Last Updated 6 Apr 2018. Web. Retrieved 5 August 2018. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Too_Close_for_Comfort_(1956_song)>.

Various Authors. “Too Close for Comfort (TV Series 1980-1987) – Plot Summary.” Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. Retrieved 5 August 2018. <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080299/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl>.

Various Authors. “too close for comfort.” Wiktionary. Last Updated 20 June 2018. Web. Retrieved 5 Aug 2018. <https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/too_close_for_comfort>.


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